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What Exactly Is a Root Canal?

October 7, 2019
Young Woman In Dentist Chair Getting A Root Canal

If you have been told you need a root canal, you probably have a lot of questions and more than a little fear. Myths and legends about this common procedure persist, despite the fact that modern dentistry has rendered root canals virtually pain-free. Knowledge is power, and understanding exactly what to expect can help ease your mind as you wait for your root canal.

Why Do I Need a Root Canal?

A root canal is often considered the last chance to save a tooth from extraction. It is performed when a tooth’s pulp tissue becomes infected. Trauma and tooth decay are the most common reasons for this infection to occur.

If you need a root canal, you have likely had trouble with the bad tooth for a while. Swelling in the gums, temperature sensitivity in the tooth, and severe pain when chewing are extremely common symptoms. If you have waited out these symptoms, you may have even developed an abscess. You might be experiencing severe pain and swelling, as well as bleeding and pus discharge from your gums.

How Will a Root Canal Fix My Tooth?

A root canal goes deep into the tooth’s root chamber to clean out all the infection and decay, restoring the tooth to health. The tooth is then sealed with a crown to prevent infection from recurring.

Step by Step Procedure and What to Expect

A root canal is a relatively minor, common dental procedure. Here is a step by step overview:

  1. We numb the tooth completely with local anesthesia.
  2. We drill a small hole through the tooth into the root chamber, exposing its canals.
  3. We use a series of files to clean out all infection, then smooth and reshape the canals.
  4. We fill and seal the canals with a biocompatible material.
  5. We place a temporary filling or crown to protect the tooth.
  6. You return to your general dentist in a few days to receive a customized crown on the treated tooth.

Despite its fearsome reputation, a root canal is no more painful than any other dental procedure. In fact, since abscesses are highly painful, many people feel a great deal better immediately. If you experience any pain during the procedure let us know, as you will need more local anesthesia.

When the anesthesia wears off, you will likely feel some discomfort that can be easily relieved with over the counter painkillers. Your tooth may feel sensitive for a couple of days, so try to avoid chewing directly on it. Most people feel just fine after two or three days. If you have any lingering pain, call us immediately.

Long Term Prognosis

The overall success rate for root canals is around 95%. There is a very slight risk of reinfection if the sealing material breaks down over time, but the vast majority of teeth that have had root canals never need any further treatment. Out of an abundance of caution, try to avoid biting down directly on the tooth until you receive your permanent crown, which will not only make the tooth look and function just like the rest of your teeth, but will also provide additional protection.

Are There Any Alternatives?

Unfortunately, if a tooth needs a root canal, the only other option is to pull the tooth and replace it with a dental implant, a partial denture, or a bridge. While these are wonderful options for teeth that cannot be saved, they are no substitute for your own natural tooth. If a root canal can save your tooth, it is by far the best alternative.

Ready to Get Started?

If you need a root canal from an endodontist you can trust, contact North Shore & Brookline Endodontics today at the location that is most convenient for you.

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